TUCSON - The number of illegal immigrants dying while trying to cross Arizona’s deserts doesn’t appear to be dropping despite tighter border security that was expected to deter some migrants from attempting the perilous trek, a border medical examiner says.
Instead, deaths along much of the Arizona border — the busiest illegal entry point on the 1,950-mile U.S.-Mexico frontier — are ahead of the record pace set two years ago, said Dr. Bruce Parks, medical examiner in Pima County.
Parks’ office, which performs autopsies on many of the illegal immigrants who die in Arizona, has tallied 181 bodies or sets of remains recovered between Jan. 1 and
Last year, 148 bodies were recovered during that period. In 2005, officials found 166 during that period. Many of those victims will have died because of the heat, which regularly exceeds 100 degrees during the hottest part of the Arizona summer.
“We still anticipate finding remains between now and the first of the month,” said the Rev. Robin Hoover, founder of the Tucson-based Humane Borders group, which has had search parties out looking for bodies the last two weekends.
“There’s bodies out there that we know of that we just haven’t found yet.”
Hoover’s group also places water tanks throughout the desert for use by migrants trying to cross from Mexico into the U.S.
“Someone will walk out and say 'these two people died’ and tell us about where and we go out and try to find them,” Hoover said.
Border Patrol statistics show a higher death toll, but the agency’s count for 2007 began with the start of the federal fiscal year on Oct. 1. According to federal figures, 197 bodies or remains have been recovered in Arizona’s deserts through Aug. 31. In the year-earlier period, 200 were found.
“The patrol doesn’t want to see any deaths,” said Dove Haber, a spokeswoman in the patrol’s Tucson sector, which covers most of the Arizona border except for an area around Yuma. “Our ideal would be that there would be none. The positive is that our rescue numbers are high.”
Lloyd Easterling, a Border Patrol spokesman in Washington, said he believes more skeletal remains are being found because the agency’s ramp-up of personnel and resources has more agents out patrolling remote, treacherous terrain.
Hoover said the Border Patrol’s efforts to shut off migration have just forced illegal immigrants to cross even more dangerous ground.
“Since 1993, when they started enforcing the border and securing the urban areas, they’ve tripled the Border Patrol and significantly increased border infrastructure,” Hoover said. “But the only control the Border Patrol has is to change where the migrants cross, and unfortunately they change it to the most treacherous terrain.”
“I don’t have a beef with the Border Patrol, this is just an empirical fact,” Hoover said. “Congress has assigned them an impossible job.”
Easterling said the number of deaths across the entire Southwestern border stood at 371 as of the end of August, compared to 442 two years ago. The total for all of the 2005 fiscal year was a record 494.